Dr. James Anderson Dismantles Opposition to Presuppositional Apologetics, Theological Determinism and Christ’s Kingly Reign Over All

It’s never pleasurable to read (i) caricatures, (ii) misunderstandings, (iii) reckless treatment of opposing views and (iv) badly formulated arguments – especially by other Christians. It is pleasurable, however, given such grave misfortune, to read precise interaction with such positions.

One wonderful thing about James’s work is his points of disagreement are always precisely articulated. (My prayer is that people will engage and if warranted change their views. I’ve never known James to bite or gloat.)

James interacts here with Davenant Institute’s attempt to interact with Pesuppositional Aplogetics.

James interacts here with J.V. Fesko’s attempt at Reforming Apologetics.

James interacts here with Richard Muller’s attempt to unhitch the Reformed tradition from theological determinism and its compatibilism implications.

James interacts here with David VanDrunen’s attempt to make sense of a 2K paradigm.

The one who states his case first seems right, until the other comes and examines him.

Proverbs 18:17

Seeds of Apostasy and Congregant Responsibility

If you’re not grieved by the infidelity of the church, then with this post you’ll find little relevance.

Churches don’t become apostate overnight. Apostasy begins with elders having a faith and practice that is contrary to their confessional standards.

Within the confessional pale, elders don’t typically deny their ordination vows overtly. It’s rare that an elder takes the initiative of disclosing conscious theological shifts in faith and practice since the assumption of his ordination vows. A contributing factor to the rarity of such truthful disclosure is the pervasive practice of ordaining unqualified men to the office of elder.

Apropos, if an elder doesn’t internalize what he vows to uphold, how can he state any differences – if not now, then later? Can a man announce a change in conviction without first having conviction? Can a man contend for that which he is so unfamiliar? If a man cannot teach his Confession, how can it be discerned by himself or others whether he truly grasps it? How many elders are apt to teach their Confession? Which is not to ask whether one is capable of uncritically parroting A.A. Hodge or G.I. Williamson on the Confession, which too can be rare.

The deception of self and others entailed by not considering the weightiness of entering into ordination vows soberly and fearfully cannot but end in sin, including full blown apostasy unless God grants repentance. Consider, did the apostate overseers in the PCUSA fall away from truth embraced, or is it more likely they never cherished the truth they vowed to have received and adopted? Congregant beware. Mere casual acquaintance with a church’s Confession has no place among ordained servants. Yet can one truthfully maintain that’s not where much of the Reformed church finds herself today? How do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

There are innumerable understandings, teachings and practices within “confessional” NAPARC churches that constitute not just stated differences but outright exceptions to the Westminster standards and the Three Forms of Unity. Yet too often the elders who approve, teach, and practice such things say they don’t take exceptions to the Standards. Such ordained men, at best, are guilty of denying their vows in ignorance rather than knowingly – until such time they’re confronted for the first time with their confessional ignorance and infidelity. Then, the lesser violation gives way to greater, unless God grants a change of heart. Again, consider for instance the PCUSA. Consider from whence we came, including the need for the Protestant Reformation. When doctrinal exceptions are intentional, there’s usually a self-ascribing of nobility from elders who seek to liberate themselves and the oppressed from the bondage of passé dogma that has in their estimation fulfilled its purpose. Neither Confession nor conscience walls in such crusaders. That’s why congregants need eyes to see and ears to hear.

A charge to congregants:

Most congregants don’t care about many teachings of the historical Reformed church. As sad as that might be, one might still hope that all congregants would be concerned if their overseers were untrue to their ordination vows. In other words, if the average congregant’s lament isn’t with a particular teaching or practice from within that opposes the church’s stated doctrinal standards, shouldn’t their grievance at least be with the integrity of the shepherds who deny what they vowed before God to uphold? If not, then how would the sheep not deserve the shepherds they’ve elected?

This is not to shift blame from pulpit to pew, but it is the foolish congregant who does not care whether her overseers uphold confessional doctrine that she is indifferent to or even opposes. We’re no longer talking merely about an elder’s doctrinal convictions but instead the caliber of his Christian character. It’s one thing not to affirm confessional doctrine, or even teach contrary to the Reformed confessions to sheep who aren’t well versed in the truth. But to posture oneself as confessional in the process is to intentionally mislead the sheep, now hypocritically, while sowing the seeds of apostasy. It’s a fair question to ask whether the average layperson has become more concerned with constitutional representation from our civil leaders than confessional fidelity from our spiritual ones. Again, what’s the congregant’s role in any of this anyway?

Creaturely concerns and the 3 C’s vs confessional standards:

For most congregants, what seems to matter most is what I’ve recently coined the 3 C’s: Community. Comfort. Convenience. When such creaturely concerns of congregants take precedent over another 3 C’s (a confessional cause for Christ), it’s just a matter of time until the proverbial frog-congregant cooks in the kettle.

A settled willingness to float downstream affords great latitude for pastors and preachers to push agendas rather than faithfully explicate God’s word in accordance to confessional standards. Under such conditions, the congregant whose utmost allegiance is to Christ rather than the 3 C’s will peaceably and appropriately voice concerns, leave or both. It’s not a Christian option to idly stand by as apostasy sets in.

History repeats itself:

In this one respect, the Reformed church resembles Romanism. Not to know what your overseers are to believe and teach is to follow glibly after both nothing and anything. As the old adage goes, if you don’t stand for something eventually you’ll fall for everything.

Did the PCUSA become the harlot she now is without first flirting with doctrinal infidelity? Again, how do churches become apostate? What’s their attitude along the way? How are our NAPARC churches doing in 2022? What’s the responsibility of congregants?

Be in prayer for the forthcoming NAPARC General Assemblies. Pray for your elders, and perhaps pray most earnestly for yourselves to discern according to your gifts of understanding and respective places of calling.

Infidelity Part 2, check it out.

Impeccability of Christ & Broadly Logical Modality

The Sproulian view of the peccability of Christ ends in either in an abstraction of the human nature from the second Person or else it attributes human personhood to the Son. Either way the denial of the impeccability of Christ implicitly, yet unwittingly, denies Chalcedon. (At the 21 minute mark I interact with Sproul, though I don’t get into modality in the Sunday school class.)

It’s really as simple as modus tollens.

1. If it is possible that Jesus could sin, then it is possible that God could sin.

2. It is false that it is possible that God could sin.

3. Therefore, it is false that it is possible that Jesus could sin.

Given the validity of the form of the argument, which premise (1 or 2) is disputed by those who’d deny Christ’s impeccability? It’s hard to say given that the focus is typically on the possible sin of Christ’s humanity, and not on the possible sin of Christ in his humanity. Notwithstanding, in order to deny impeccability one must affirm that it’s possible for the Son to sin. Otherwise the debate is misunderstood.

Possible world semantics are also useful here. Consider, is there a possible world in which the incarnate Son of God sins? (The answer to the question is kind of built into the definition of God, but I won’t get ahead of myself.)

Modality considerations:

We would do well to distinguish (a) narrow or strict logical possibility from (b) broad logical possibility or metaphysical possibility. One might say that “God sins” is logically possible in a strict sense because the proposition does not immediately entail a logical contradiction. But that would not imply that it is broadly logically possible, metaphysically speaking, for God to sin.

An analogy might be useful here. A state of matter cannot be solid and not solid at the same time and in the same way. To affirm the contrary would entail logical impossibility in a strict sense, as it would violate the law of non-contradiction in an immediate inferential sense. (It’s critical to grasp at this point that one needn’t know what solid, gaseous, liquid and plasma states entail for it to be known that such a phase of matter (a form that is both solid and not solid…) is a strict (or narrow) logical impossibility. The logical contradiction in view is formal and according to the law of non-contradiction (aside from any semantic considerations). It merely pertains to: something cannot be x and ~x…

However, it would not immediately entail a logical contradiction for a phase to be simultaneously solid and gaseous; yet how is such a state of being relevantly possible? Well, it’s not. It can’t be actualized. We might say that such a form of matter is not strictly (or narrowly logically) impossible, but that’s merely because no formal law of logic is immediately violated by the term solid-gas. What’s lacking in the immediate or strictly logical inference of the possibility of a solid-gas is the meaning, or qualitative differences, of two distinct truths about forms of matter. Yet once we know the semantic implications of solid and gaseous states, then we may infer from additional premises that no solid can be simultaneously gaseous. Accordingly, we may then further deduce that a phase that is both solid and gaseous is more broadly logically (or metaphysically) impossible. Furthermore, a solid-gas is just as relevantly impossible as a solid that is not a solid!

Back to impeccability. Like a solid-gas, a God-man who can sin is a contradiction in terms. Such contemplations are broadly illogical due to the nature of things.

2 ways one might go:

Without grasping the relevant implications of divinity as it relates to the doctrine of Christ, one might assert the metaphysical possibility of Jesus sinning. Furthermore, it’s not immediately inferable that it’s logically impossible for all possible humans, including Jesus, to sin. Yet if one grasps Chalcedon and incorporates God’s nature into the deduction, one may more modestly concede the latter option, that it is narrowly logically possible for Jesus, a human being, to sin. Whereas the former option lacks the use of relevant information about God’s nature, the latter, although more sophisticated, would have little or nothing to do with the doctrine of Christ’s impeccability, which is a metaphysical, broadly logical consideration. (Moreover, I’ve never seen such a subtle distinction of modality articulated as the basis for one’s denial of the doctrine of the impeccability of Christ, which is not to say that some haven’t had such reflections without having the semantic categories to articulate such a position.)

Those who hold to a doctrine of peccability either are confusing modalities or else they’re latent Nestorians:

Christians who affirm a doctrine of peccability typically do so without any self-conscious reference to a modality maneuver. Notwithstanding, to assert peccability as true doctrine entails a misunderstanding of temptation that in turn undermines the two natures in one subsistence. It’s not as though they affirm only strict logical possibility over possible actuality. Rather, in affirming peccability, they affirm the actual (metaphysical, broadly logically) possibility of an unfaithful Christ (and consequently affirm strict logical possibility too). In doing so, they abstract the human nature from the divine person, which falls to the same type error as positing a solid gas. In confusion, they might additionally attribute distinct personhood to the human being, Christ (Nestorianism).

Further reflection:

Christians embrace the incarnation of the divine Son as a union of two distinct natures in one hypostasis. Yet given a doctrine of peccability, is it further supposed that the human nature could possibly have sinned apart from the Person having sinned? In other words, by sinning would the Second Person (God) have committed sin only in his humanity but not personally? It’s hard to tell whether people like Sproul think that the whole person of Christ could possibly sin in his humanity. After all, Sproul’s position entails an unorthodox abstraction that “Satan was not trying to get God to sin. He was trying to get the human nature of Christ to sin, so that he would not be qualified to be the Savior.”

Wrapping up:

Given the meaning or ontological import of Jesus is Son, we may safely maintain it is metaphysically or broadly logically impossible for Jesus to sin in any actualizeable (feasible) world, which is the only relevant scope of possibility in this regard. Since God cannot possibly actualize a world in which the Son sins, in what Christological sense might Christ possibly sin? Given God’s nature, an implication of Chalcedon is Jesus was indeed impeccable.

There are other missteps Sproul makes. I’ll briefly touch on a few.

“But if Christ’s divine nature prevented him from sinning, in what sense did he obey the law of God as the second Adam?”

False dichotomy: When God prevents us from sinning in the face of temptation, are we not truly obeying? Accordingly, operative grace does not undermine either obedience or true temptation.

Moreover, God’s free knowledge of the divine decree presupposes the causal divine determinism of ordinary providence. Consequently, Sproul’s question smacks of Incompatibilism for God cannot but ultimately and causally determine the incarnate Son’s willful intentions through the intentional ordering of states of affairs, about which God pre-interprets the particulars consistent with a Reformed understanding of concurrence.

“I may be wrong, but I think it is wrong to believe that Christ’s divine nature made it impossible for his human nature to sin. If that were the case, the temptation, the tests, and his assuming of the responsibility of the first Adam would have all been charades. This position protects the integrity of the authenticity of the human nature because it was the human nature that carried out the mission of the second Adam on our behalf. It was the human nature uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit.”

What is it to be “uniquely anointed beyond measure by the Holy Spirit” other than to attribute something additional to the Second Adam that was not granted to our first father by the Holy Spirit? Moreover, how might Sproul capitalize on the Spirit’s anointing in a way that distinguishes it in any relevant sense from the ordinary empowering of the human will that might have come to Christ’s humanity from the Son’s ubiquitous divine nature, which is shared with the Father and the Spirit? How many divine beings are there after all? Moreover, the incarnation entails a perichoresis in the sense that the omnipresent divine nature of Christ penetrates his human nature, as it does ours yet to a lesser degree, though always without a transfer of properties. The penetration is also one directional and never from the human nature to the divine nature.

Lastly, regarding the human nature and Christ’s mission, was it the human nature that kept itself from sinking under the infinite wrath of God? Moreover, did the human nature alone give worth and efficacy to the sufferings of Christ? No to both. A human person could not have possibly redeemed! Accordingly, Sproul is not only wrong for abstracting the humanity of Christ from Christ, he’s also mistaken in thinking that the divine nature of the Son contributes nothing to our salvation. (See my post on strict vs. pactum justice.)

We are saved by a divine Person, not by an abstracted impersonal nature or even a human person. Accordingly, Sproul simply is incorrect that “the human nature carried out the [redemptive] mission.” Rather, it was requisite that a person carry out the mission, and that the person be God incarnate, as Sproul’s confessional Standards rightly teach:

Westminster Larger Catechism:

Q. 38. Why was it requisite that the Mediator should be God?

A. It was requisite that the Mediator should be God, that he might sustain and keep the human nature from sinking under the infinite wrath of God, and the power of death; give worth and efficacy to his sufferings, obedience and intercession; and to satisfy God’s justice, procure his favor, purchase a peculiar people, give his Spirit to them…

(As with the false doctrine of Christ’s peccability, so it is with Molinism. As I argue here, Molinism posits true narrow-sense possibilities that cannot be actualized even though there are an “infinite number” of these “logical” possibilities. And here, I made a passing remark about impeccability in a post primarily pertaining to Dabney’s unhappy employment of Middle Knowledge. That passing remark was a seed thought to the current post.)

Trinitarian Heterodoxy Eclipses Marriage (once again)

A pair of books were recently released entitled: Let The Men Be Men & Let The Women Be Women. As the subtitles disclose, the respective books pertain to God’s Design For Manhood And Marriage & God’s Design For Womanhood and Marriage.

My wife was reading to me a portion from Chapter 2 of one of the books, wherein a passing reference to the Trinity was made. The author said he’d develop the reference more in Chapter 10. Naturally, I took a quick peak at chapter 10 because some otherwise good material on wives and husbands has been disregarded over the years due to missteps having to do with Trinity analogies. One particular egalitarian Anglican-theologian who’s well versed in Trinitarian theology has capitalized on such missteps. Others have as well. Neither Baptists nor Presbyterians should want to throw the baby out with the bath water (pun intended).

In the hope that such books are a success in bringing clarity to the complementarian discussion, I thought I’d make a few comments on some direct quotes from the book on women.

My thoughts as they relate to the doctrine of God, I think, would be shared by most Reformed Presbyterian theologians and pastors. We might recall that they are the ones (along with an Anglican or two) who went after Wayne Grudem, Bruce Ware, and others for their Trinity analogies to marriage in the summer of 2016. What I have found doubly unfortunate is that some biblical teaching on marriage has been dismissed, if not even scorned in the process, due to mistaken Theology Proper.

More than in Reformed Baptist circles, there are thin complementarians in the Reformed Presbyterian community. Many of these men have their Trinitarian theology down pat. So, any Trinity misstep by otherwise good men of God provides occasion for some to dismiss biblical complementarianism. This is understandable, which should cause certain Reformed Baptists to be more careful, if not solely for the sake of putting forth a biblical view of God, and secondly so that others might give attention to sound marriage doctrine.

From chapter 10:

The Trinity As A Model Of Submission

“The Trinity” is a term that defines the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – one essence and attributes, yet three in distinct work and purpose. (Emphasis mine)

We don’t want to eclipse Divine Simplicity and the inseparable operations of the Trinity. (We might recall, that was a big deal in the Trinity debate in the summer of 2016.)

Each divine Person is operative in all God’s works. Which is to say, the works of the Trinity are indivisible. Indeed, it was the Son who died on the cross, but God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself (by the Spirit). In redemption there is one distinct work and purpose, carried out through the inseparable operations of Persons when Christ, by the eternal Spirit, offered Himself without blemish to God.

Trinity is not a term that seeks to define God by “relationship” within the Godhead, if by relationship we mean personal distinctions of authority and submission. The historical Christian creeds discriminate not by eternal relationships (or economic functions) but by personal properties. Accordingly, any orthodox reference to “relationship” must be interpreted as personal properties ad intra that cash out as eternal modes of being. Any eternal relationship may only be conceived of in terms of relations of eternal origin, not subject to temporal-sequence or personal roles. Historically, the church has defined Trinity in terms of the eternal origins of existence: unbegogtenness of the Father; eternal generation of the Son; and procession of the Holy Spirit.

God uses that aspect of the trinity to teach us how marriage is to work. This is the truth of 1 Corinthians 11:3 “I want you to understand the Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”As Paul is about to discuss the role of women he makes a statement about the trinity is the reason for different roles in marriage…

Wives and husbands share in a human nature yet with distinct and separate wills, making submission not only feasible but functional. Whereas we cannot find a suitable analogy of authority and submission in the ontological Trinity because the ontological Trinity is of one divine essence and thereby of numerically one will (since will is indexed to essence, hence Christ’s two wills). Yet if submission entails a plurality of wills, then there can be no submission in the ontological Trinity by the nature of the case, for one will cannot submit to itself.

Perhaps there is authority and submission application to be made from 1 Corinthians 11:3. I hope more scholarship goes into this text. But what I first find key in the text is the reference to Christ, referring to the Son as the mediatory God-man. In other words, we may not draw application from the Trinity per se, but rather we must place the focus on the incarnate Christ as mediator who submits in His human will to the Divine will of the Father.

Within the economic Trinity there is submission but it’s misleading merely to observe that a divine Person submits to a divine Person and to extend that submission analogy to the equality of persons in marriage. The reason being, it is a divine Person as a human being who submits to a divine Being who is not a human being! In other words, Christ Jesus submitted only in his human will to the divine will, just as we are to submit our human wills to God. Although the divine Persons are equal, the wills in view are not. So, the analogy breaks down once we tease out the relevant will of submission in the economic Trinity. I’ll elaborate…

In marriage we are talking about two distinct human wills – among equal beings – that are to be brought into harmony through submission. Yet in Christ’s submission to the Father, although the persons are equal, the relevant beings are not. Therefore, that a human being, who is a divine Person, submits as a divine Person to another divine Person (who is solely a divine being) lacks analogous force with respect to a human being who must submit to another human being in marriage. In sum, within the economic Trinity there is no ordering of equal wills but rather an ordering of a human will under the one undivided will of God. The taxis of persons as it relates to submission in the economic Trinity is established not by Persons per se but by another property, the plurality of natures of the Second Person.

(The Presbyterians seemed to grant a marriage submission analogy from the economic Trinity, which I just argued was in error.)

The principle and practice of submission has been around as long as God has existed.(Emphasis mine)

“As long as God has existed” draws application not from the economic Trinity but rather the immanent Trinity. The sentiment literally implies submission exists in the eternal and one undivided will of God prior to the hypostatic union, but the Scripture proof-text refers not to the eternal Son but to the incarnate Christ. Apart from the human will, the Second Person cannot submit his will to the Father given that it’s the identical will. (God is a simple being, not composite.)

It won’t do to appeal to the ordering or taxis of the eternal and undivided will of God. For no amount of ordering of the one undivided will of God can result in a willful coming under lest we equivocate in our analogy. Even if we recognize an ordering of the Son’s will to become man, while the Father willed that he himself not become the mediator, it’s at best a misnomer to consider a will of concomitance in terms of authority and submission. For the Son delights in the plan of God for it is the very eternal plan of the undivided Trinity. He can do no other. It’s His will!

In closing:

Given that the divine Persons of the ontological Trinity are differentiated by their eternal properties of paternity, filiation and spiration, the ontological Trinity analogy should be forsaken altogether and any analogies and application should be limited to Christ in his humility per 1 Corinthians 11:3, yet I’ve just challenged how far we might be able to take even that analogy.

Within the economic Trinity there is a Divine Person with a non-divine will that makes Jesus’ submission to God possible, but the notion of Trinity seems to complicate matters because we are then left to speak in terms limited to the economic Trinity and only one of the Persons of the economic Trinity, Christ Jesus, as his human will comes under the one divine will, which is the Son’s. Accordingly, authority and submission is not a Trinity consideration per se but a limited consideration of the union of two natures in one hypostasis.

Again, Reformed Presbyterians need this teaching on marriage. I believe we may learn much from our Calvinistic Baptist brothers and sisters. To that end, my hope is Trinity analogies would be reconsidered in new light, as I wish there to be no dismantling of any reasonable core thesis on marriage.

Lee Irons’ View of Unbelievers and the Christian Sabbath, a basic logic lesson.

Lee Irons maintains that the Sabbath is binding upon Christians but not upon unbelievers. If Irons is correct, then Christians may allow unbelievers to labor for them on Sunday, for instance as servers at restaurants and coffee shops. If Irons is incorrect, then Christians who dine out on Sunday are paying servers to break God’s law, which entails sin for such believers.

Irons makes the following claims:

(10) Promise establishes obligation (Heb. 4:1). Thus, the Sabbath sign is to be observed only by the holy covenant community, for to it alone does the promise of eschatological consummation apply (Heb. 4:9-10; Luke 13:16).

(11) Conversely, since unbelievers have no promise of eschatological consummation, they have no obligation to observe the sign thereof.

(12) It is not biblically permissible for the covenant community to attempt to enforce Sabbath observance on those outside of the covenant community (e.g., blue laws), nor should believers refrain from certain activities solely on the ground that such activity may cause unbelievers to profane the Sabbath.

In arguing this way, Lee Irons upholds an esoteric position that has no confessional status or biblical precedent. Again, Lee Irons argues that the Christian Sabbath is obligatory for the covenant community but not for unbelievers. Of course, if Irons’ conclusion were correct but fallaciously derived, it would not be reliable.

The point of this post is not to establish that Christian Sabbath is obligatory for all, but simply to show that Lee Irons has reasoned badly. Therefore, even if his conclusion were true, it cannot be established upon his argument.

I’ll make four points and some sub-points:

* I’ll formally formulate Irons’ informal argument and interact with it to show its formal fallacy, upon which his argument rests.

* I’ll rid the argument of its formal fallacy to show that a cogently argued conclusion utilizing his premises is no threat to the position Irons opposes.

* I’ll use Irons’ unsuccessfully argued conclusion to show that even though fallaciously derived, if it were indeed true would lead to further theological and moral problems, including an implicit denial of the need for the gospel.

* Lastly, I’ll show Irons’ disregard for the Westminster Larger Catechism and the law.

Anne Hutchinson

1. Irons asserts that promise without qualification establishes obligation. I’m going to grant the premise, not because it was demonstrated by Irons but because I believe it’s demonstrable in relation to divine promise (though not without a little work).

Irons reasons that sabbath observance with its promissory nature, which points forward to eschatological consummation, does not apply to unbelievers because the promise of consummation does not apply to them. In other words, because unbelievers are not promised final rest, they are not obligated to rest on the Sabbath.

Irons three point argument is contained in his point 10. The order of his informally stated argument is: Major Premise, Conclusion, Minor Premise. Of course, that order is fine for informal discourse. If we clean up the argument a bit, we may infer the following deduction:

p1. Promise establishes obligation

p2. The promise applies only to the covenant community

Therefore, the obligation is only for the covenant community


P = Promise

O = Obligation

C = Covenant Community

If P, then O

P is only for C

Therefore, O is only for C

On the surface it’s not hard for some to discern that something doesn’t seem quite right about Irons’ argument. It just doesn’t pass the sniff test. Understandably, it might take a bit more skill to identify precisely Irons’ misstep.

Irons commits an illicit transfer fallacy by concluding:

“Thus, the Sabbath sign is to be observed only by the holy covenant community.”

Irons’ fallacy wouldn’t be so bad if his entire argument didn’t rest on it. Accordingly, it’s not as though I’m going to refute Irons’ position on a technicality. Rather, I’ll demonstrate that Irons’ argument is misleading and erroneous at its core.

The restrictive import of “only” may not logically be transferred from premise 2 to the conclusion in this way. The restriction that the word “only” contemplates pertains to whom the promise is made (C). Whereas the scope of “only” in the conclusion is illicitly indexed to an obligation that the major premise contemplates. Therefore, it’s invalid to transfer the restrictive “only” this way because the conclusion ends up exceeding the scope of the premises.

To put it in logical terms, <if P is sufficient for O, and is only given to C> does not imply that some ~C aren’t O (or under O). Accordingly, even if Irons’ premises were true, they do not guarantee the conclusion. Therefore, the argument is invalid and any position that rests upon an invalid argument is unjustified.

Transfer type fallacies among theologians are not uncommon. They are easy to unearth by applying a bit of philosophical theology.

An example of a transfer fallacy that is identified by more sophisticated Arminians is called the transfer of necessity fallacy, which too many Calvinists unwittingly commit from time to time.

It goes like this:

p1. Necessarily, if God foreknows x, then x will happen

p2. God foreknows x

Therefore, x will necessarily happen

That’s just food for thought but back to Irons.

Irons’ thesis is glaringly indistinguishable from his defense. Irons has begged the question by resting his conclusion upon a series of assertions that lacks valid formulation. (That’s not subjective conjecture but an objective matter pertaining to valid syllogistic reasoning.)

But let’s toy with this a bit further in order to try to refute the best that possibly can be argued with Irons’ premises:

2. If we rid Irons’ argument of the transfer-only fallacy, then the “argument” no longer concludes anything about the unbelievers’ relationship to the Sabbath:

If P, then O

P is only for C

Therefore, O is for C


p1. Promise establishes obligation

p2. The promise applies only to the covenant community

Therefore, the obligation is for the covenant community

The conclusion of the reformulated non-fallacious argument does not establish that obligation is only for C and not, therefore, also for at least some unbelievers. Accordingly, Irons can only make his case with his premises by improperly expanding the scope of only, which is formally invalid.

From a purely logical standpoint, Irons’ assertion, argument and conclusion are one and the same.

3. In a spirit of generosity let’s allow for the essence of Irons’ conclusion, even though he has assumed it without valid proof.

The essence is that if there is a promise that only applies to C, then the associated command must only apply to C.

We can approach this bald claim several ways:

A. Irons premise is that the promise of eschatological rest pertains only to C. Let’s now scrutinize the premise and apply it.

C doesn’t contain only believers. It also contains both elect and non-elect unbelievers. With respect to the non-elect within C, the promise is conditioned upon a faith they’ll never possess. Accordingly, the promise pertains no more to them than to the non-elect outside C, making the premise with respect to the promise logically unworkable for Irons.

B. Yet if we remove the conditional nature of the promise, then we’re left with a promise that pertains only to the elect within C. However, given that there are elect outside C, it’s hard to see how Irons can make sense of his axiom that the promise only applies to C. No matter how the promise might be structured, without a conditional aspect it’ll apply equally to all elect regardless of their standing in C, which is not just agreeable but most happily complies with WLC Q31 as it relates to the promise of the one CoG.

C. If the promise applies only to elect who currently believe, then Irons’ has to reconcile such a modification with genuine believers who aren’t part of the visible C. Yet his claim is the promise only pertains to C.

D. A command to repent entails an obligation to repent. An obligation to repent entails a promise of eschatological proportion for the truly penitent. Yet it’s Irons’ position that a commandment with promise does not apply to unbelievers outside C. Yet God commands repentance that leads to sabbath rest, even to those outside C who’ll never repent! (Consider the free offer of the gospel!)

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” (Acts 17)

E. The fifth commandment is given to the covenant community and comes with a spiritual promise. Given Irons’ thesis, non-covenant children would not be under obligation to obey their parents given the commandment’s promissory nature. Moreover, given Irons’ point #11, even unconverted covenant children, being yet unbelievers, needn’t obey God’s commandment!

Irons is down to eight commandments and the rest are eliminated below.

F. Jesus taught C of his day that those within, who keep God’s commandments, will be loved by God and Christ, and that Christ will manifest himself to such that obey. The Lord goes on to say in the same passage that he and his Father will make their abode with those who keep Christ’s words. Again, contra-Irons we see a promise that pertains to the totality of the law that establishes obligation. Are unbelievers not obliged to keep God’s words due to the entailment of promise?

Irons’ promise-thesis, if followed to its logical conclusion, would eliminate all law with promise of blessing for unbelievers, nullifying the need of the gospel! (Antinomianism is part-and-parcel to Irons’ Radical 2 Kingdom paradigm.)

G. Is a man merely culpable for getting locked up for civil transgression, and not culpable for not providing for his family because he has been incarcerated?

Even the light of nature tells us that future culpability is not reduced by disobeying initial commands. People are guilty not just for not doing x (when they ought to do x), but also for the future effects of y and z if they are a result of not doing x – hence the grounding of unrealized yet future damages in jurisprudence. Accordingly, by rejecting Christ on day one does not alleviate one from not following Christ’s laws on day n. If one rejects Christ, isn’t he also culpable for not raising his children in the Lord and observing the Lord’s Day? Doesn’t the parable of the talents teach us that we are culpable not just for transgression but for neglect that prevented increase that otherwise would’ve obtained in the absence of neglect?! Doesn’t even the light of nature tell us that a student who cuts school is responsible for what he missed in class that day?

To reject Christ entails the rejection of God’s laws, which includes the blessings and obedience entailed by Christian worship and Christian sabbath observance.

4. Irons claims that “it is not biblically permissible for the covenant community to attempt to enforce Sabbath observance on those outside of the covenant community (e.g., blue laws)…”

“Enforce” is vague. If Iron’s means impose, administer or carry out, then of course the covenant community may not enforce this or any other moral law that way.

If Irons wants to be relevant at all, his use of “enforce” must be less modest and fall short of such coercion. In that case, Irons is biblically and confessionally wrong that individuals in the covenant community are not to endeavor within their place of influence to keep unbelievers from profaning the Sabbath. Accordingly, Irons either is addressing an irrelevant straw-man or denying the Catechism and Exodus XX.10:

WLC #99 That what is forbidden or commanded to ourselves, we are bound, according to our places, to endeavor that it may be avoided or performed by others, according to the duty of their places. (Exodus XX.10 teaches that servants and strangers are not to work on the Sabbath.)

Irons asserts “nor should believers refrain from certain activities solely on the ground that such activity may cause unbelievers to profane the Sabbath.” In direct opposition to Exodus XX.10, Irons maintains that a Christian may enjoy rest that comes through the labors of servants and strangers.

So, Christians who frequent restaurants on Sundays or take in live sporting events are directly encouraging people to break the 4th Commandment. It’s a clear violation of the Decalogue and the Westminster Confession of Faith. (For a glaring reductio, I offer this.)

Irons is well known for his antinomian tendencies and not much more needs to be said.

Moving beyond Sproulian Compatibilism

Below are excerpts from R.C. Sproul’s, What Is Free Will?

We have seen Edwards’ [1700s] view and Calvin’s view [1500s], so now we’ll go into the Sproulian view of free will by appealing to irony, or to a form of paradox… I would like to make this statement: in my opinion, every choice that we make is free, and every choice that we make is determined. Again, every choice that we make is free, and every choice that we make is determined.

Sproulian or just a version of (Classical) Compatibilism?

Now that sounds flatly contradictory because we normally see the categories of “determined” and “free” as mutually exclusive categories. To say that something is determined by something else, which is to say that it’s caused by something else, would seem to indicate that it couldn’t possibly be free.

But what I’m speaking about is not determinism. Determinism means that things happen to me strictly by virtue of external forces. But, in addition to external forces that are determining factors in what happens to us, there are also internal forces that are determining factors.

Though apparently unaware, Sproul certainly is advocating a kind of Determinism. (See James Anderson for various species of Determinism. See my former blog, Reformed Apologist, for review and link to Paul Manata’s case for Reformed Theology as a kind of Determinism.)

What I’m saying, along with Edwards and Calvin, is that if my choices flow out of my disposition and out of my desires, and if my actions are effects that have causes and reasons behind them, then my personal desire in a very real sense determines my personal choice.

For Sproul, choices cannot be separated from desires, though the two must be distinguished. By choices Sproul is not identifying desires as choices, for he plainly states that choices flow out of desires. Furthermore, given the determinative causal place he assigns to desires, Sproul is identifying choice not as the determinative desire itself, which will (and “must”) be acted upon, but as effects that proceed from externally caused desires. In other words, the determinative desire is not the choice, but it’s the proximate cause of the choice.

For Sproul, the following chain holds true:

External Influences —> Internal Desire —> Choice

If my desires determine my choice, how then can I be free? Remember I said that, in every choice, our choice is both free and determined. But what determines it is me, and this we call self-determination. Self-determination is not the denial of freedom, but the essence of freedom. For the self to be able to determine its own choices is what free will is all about.

For Sproul choice is the action itself – that which is caused by internal desire or “according to the strongest inclination at the moment.”

Back to something Sproul said earlier:

But, in addition to external forces that are determining factors in what happens to us, there are also internal forces that are determining factors.

The “internal forces that are determining factors” are not chosen, nor do they cause intentions that effect “choice.” Rather, the internal forces that have determinative power are the intentions themselves, or what we might call the desires. For the Compatibilst it’s intention that brings causal force upon an action of choice.

Let’s go deeper:

At the heart of the free will debate is the cause of the intention to act.

The question is not whether free moral agents make choices or whether they flow from the agent or her intentions. The pertinent questions have to do with how intentions, if they cause volitional actions, can be morally relevant if they don’t originate with the agent as their ultimate source. Similarly, what is it for an agent to possess sufficient control over those causal influences that precede the proximate cause of any free choice? Need an agent regulate or merely guide causal influences? Must she ultimately or merely proximately cause her choices? Must there be a mesh of desires, whereby moral agents approve of their intentions?

Putting this together from outside-in, Compatibilism entails that external determining factors can cause internal intentions. In turn, internal intentions, that are externally effectuated, cause at least some “free choices” (i.e. actions that proceed from them.)

A common Incompatibilist complaint might be phrased thusly. If an internal intention triggers a volitional act, and the intention is imposed upon the agent from without, then how can the agent act but only one possible way given the preceding causal circumstances that are outside the agent’s control? Where is freedom of choice under such constraints? Fair questions.

The simple point I’m trying to make is that not only may we choose according to our own desires but, in fact, we always choose according to our desires. I’ll take it even to the superlative degree and say that we must always choose according to the strongest inclination at the moment. That is the essence of free choice—to be able to choose what you want.

Allowing for lack of attention to John Locke (1680s) and Harry Frankfurt (1980s) with respect to Sproul’s last statement, Sproul is correct that if actions causally proceed from inclinations, and if we define such actions as choices, then surely such choices are according to inclinations. As for how helpful that is, I’m not quite sure. Add external causal-forces to the mix and we soft-determinists might have some ‘splaining to do!

More to consider:

Sproul provides accessible talking points. How they might advance discussion with a thoughtful Incompatibilist or provide an adequate defense for one with a Reformed leaning against Arminianism at it relates to Divine Decree and Free Will is, I think, another consideration. Perhaps further reflection is appropriate to develop a robust defense of how free will is compatible with causal divine determinism, and how one might perform an internal critique of free will Incompatibilism. The free will debate has advanced in the last 300 years beyond Sproul’s use of Edwards, especially with respect to the most sophisticated stripe of theological Incompatibilism called Molinism. (Philosophical-Theology Molinism tag here.)

Now that Sproul has at least spade some soil, we might want to unearth some deeper questions like, does any prominent free will view lead to heresy? Can any side of the debate make sense of intentions? What, if anything, is lacking with compatibilist freedom as it relates to responsibility that supposedly makes libertarian freedom desirable or necessary? Is libertarian agent-causation ill defined or even defensible?

My hope is this post and the links I’ve provided might cause one to desire and actually go beyond Sproul – to choose to think harder about these things. (Pun intended).

Evidentialism, Testimony & Inferior Witnesses

This post by Steve, formally at Triablogue, resurfaced recently. I’ll interact with three excerpts that were in the spirit of Steve’s eclectic approach to apologetics, which included at least mild affinity to Evidentialism.

One thing that’s often lost sight of in debates over the Bible is that testimony is prima facie evidential in its own right unless we have reason to doubt it. You don’t need corroborative evidence before testimony can have evidential value.

It is true that one needn’t always have direct corroborating evidence in order to be justified in believing the testimony of a witness. For instance, if a man claims he saw three children board a yellow bus at 8:00 am on a Monday morning in October, I’d be perfectly justified in believing the witness without any direct evidence regarding his trustworthiness. That’s because, as a general rule, people don’t typically lie about common occurrences. So, although I might not know anything about the witness (directly), I do know something about what is normative, and it’s that which indirectly informs me of whether I may rationally believe a stranger’s testimony. The normativity in view pertains not merely to occurrences (school buses picking up children), but also about human nature as it relates to the reliability of innocuous claims.

To take things one step further, it would be irrational to disregard evidential value in such cases. It’s not merely that I shouldn’t disbelieve and try to remain agnostic about such claims. Rather, I should positively believe those sorts of claims. (I’m not giving a nod toward doxastic voluntarism.)

So, there is indirect evidence that pertains not to what is directly perceived about witnesses but rather to what is normative, which in turn informs us (along with other presuppositions) of whether a testimony is credible. That should become more plain once we consider an extraordinary claim.

Unless we have evidence that the witness is a chronic liar, or unless we have evidence that the witness was motivated to lie in this particular case, it’s irrational to discount testimonial evidence.

Really? Let’s continue with our first witness example. If the witness later claimed that the bus turned into a magic dragon and transported the children to a school made of clouds in the sky as they sang a familiar song by a less familiar trio, would it be “irrational to discount [that] testimonial evidence”? In other words, need I have “evidence that the witness is a chronic liar, or…was motivated to lie” in order to reject such testimony for its incredibility? Of course not. I have indirect evidence as it relates to life experiences. I have a worldview that filters out bogus testimony.

Peter, Paul and Mary sing Puff.

In that misogynistic culture, women were regarded as second-rate eyewitnesses. If the Gospels are pious fiction, why would the narrators invent inferior witnesses rather than more culturally credible witnesses?

That argument gets a bit of traction around Easter. One rejoinder is the narrators weren’t clever enough to recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses. Another is that the narrators were extremely clever and did recognize that they were inventing inferior witnesses! After calculating the risk of using seemingly inferior witnesses, the narrators concluded that there is significant persuasive force in using such witnesses. The logic being that since inferior witnesses would not likely be invented intentionally, people would naturally conclude the witnesses were not invented and, therefore, are all the more credible. (I’m sure I must have seen such a tactic on a Columbo episode.)

In closing

Claims about flying school buses and raising the dead will always be sifted through one’s network of presuppositions (i.e. one’s worldview).

Our confidence in the Resurrection is not based in part upon directly knowing the eye-witnesses were not liars or there being no reason to doubt their testimony. Nor is it based in part upon a notion that makes inferior witnesses superior witnesses. Our confidence is tied to presuppositions that pertain to what we deem authoritative and possible, which in the case of Scripture relates to being awakened by grace to certain things we know by nature yet otherwise would continue to suppress in unrighteousness. Read on…

When well-meaning Christians remove the extraordinary claim of the resurrection from its soteriological context, the evidence for the resurrection is anything but credible. Yet, the resurrection is perfectly sensible within the context of things we know by nature and are awakened to by the Holy Spirit working in conjunction with Scripture. Namely, God’s wrath abides upon all men and God is merciful and loving. In the context of man’s plight and God’s character, the preaching of the death, burial and resurrection of Christ can be apprehended as not just credible, but the very wisdom of God. Our full persuasion of the resurrection unto knowledge of the truth is gospel-centric. The good news of John 3:16 is reasonable only in the context of the bad news of Romans 1:18-20 and Romans 3:10-20. The former presupposes the latter.

Lastly, the usefulness of evidence is a matter of inductive inference. As isolated observations and testimonies are synthesized, we arrive at general principles. Since inferences consist of making generalizations based upon specific observations, the principle of induction isn’t terribly useful in trying to draw rational inferences about the miraculous. In other words, induction presupposes uniformity but at the heart of the Resurrection is suspended uniformity.

Of course, there is an apologetic that is aimed to unearth the preconditions for the possibility of induction, but that’s not the point of this blog entry. 😉

R.C. Sproul vs The Westminster Divines on the Christian Sabbath

R,C. Sproul cites three so-called “controversies” in church history surrounding the Christian Sabbath. Is the Sabbath obligatory for the New Testament Church? If it is, should the Sabbath continue to be the seventh day of the week, the first day of the week, or is the day of the week up for grabs. Thirdly, Sproul raises a difference of opinion within the church regarding Sabbath recreation and acts of mercy. So, Sproul cites two defeated views, then fastens his wagon to a third. I’ll address them one-by-one.

Obligatory nature of the Sabbath

Augustine, for example, believed that nine of the Ten Commandments (the so-called “moral law” of the Old Testament) were still intact and imposed obligations upon the Christian church… Augustine was persuaded that the Old Testament Sabbath law had been abrogated. Others have argued that because the Sabbath was instituted originally not in the Mosaic economy but in creation, it maintains its status of moral law as long as the creation is intact.

There’s no doubt, Augustine was the theological giant of his day. However, he lived 1600 years ago, and anyone holding to his theology today could not be ordained in a Reformed Presbyterian church. That speaks to how far God has brought his church.

Many giants have stood on Augustine’s shoulders. Yet today’s Reformed church, with its elevated line to truth on the horizon, repudiates several of Augustine’s theological positions such as paedocommunion, the classification of non-elect regenerate persons, the abrogation of the Sabbath principle, and more.

Of course, there are always theological “controversies” in the church, but controversy alone does not give credence to a defeated view held by an otherwise notable theologian of his day. That Augustine reduced the Ten Commandants to nine merely corroborates the Reformed understanding of the progressive doctrinal illumination of the church. We should expect that doctrine has been refined from Augustine’s day, through the time of the Protestant Reformation, to this very day within the Reformed tradition.

Accordingly, any reference to Augustine in an attempt to give credence to a non-confessional Sabbath view gives equal historical credence to paedocommunion and losing one’s salvation, which resurfaced without warm ecclesiastical welcome in the fleeting phase of Federal Vision.

Saturday, Sunday or any day?

The second major controversy is the question about the day of the week on which the Sabbath is to be observed. Some insist that… since the Old Testament Israelites celebrated the Sabbath on the seventh day of the week, which would be Saturday, we should follow that pattern.

Sproul gives no details of who was embroiled in the controversy, so it’s hard to comment. As for today it’s safe to say that the Millerite movement that culminated in the Seventh-day Adventist sect and the teachings of its former prophetess, Ellen White, have no seat at the Reformed table. Nor do Saturday Sabbath cults like those that embrace Armstrongism and House of Yahwey heresies, or views held within the Hebrews Roots movement.

But back to basics. What is the relevance of citing the defeated side of a settled “controversy” by an appeal to a particular theologian? Would we lend credence to slavery because an otherwise notable statesman owned slaves? That a particular theologian (past or present) disagrees with the church might be interesting but it is neither surprising nor seemingly relevant.

Indeed, if it is one’s intention to lend credence to doctrines that lost the debate by citing notable theologians who were on the wrong side of the church, then how far might we take this approach? Should we revisit the credibility of the “Transubstantiation of the Mass” because Thomas Aquinas was sound on other doctrine? Where is Sproul hoping to lead us? Controversial debate might create doubt in the minds of the less theologically grounded, but can it lend credence to either side of an issue, especially to the losing side in a progressively illuminated church?

John Calvin argued that it would be legitimate to have the Sabbath day on any day if all of the churches would agree, because the principle in view was the regular assembling of the saints for corporate worship and for the observation of rest.

Well, Calvin didn’t have the benefit of the Westminster Divines as it relates to their mature thought on the Regulative Principle of Worship, Christian Liberty of Conscience and Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day, which through synthetic application overturns the view that the church may determine which day in seven can be constituted as the Lord’s Day. The Divines with good reason rejected Articles XX and XXXIV of the church of England. Again, what’s the point of the history lesson?

How does historical controversy lend credence to settled error, and in this particular case on the church’s alleged right to dictate religious rites and holy days?

Recreation and Acts of Mercy

Within the Reformed tradition, the most significant controversy that has appeared through the ages is the question of how the Sabbath is to be observed. There are two major positions within the Reformed tradition on this question. To make matters simple, we will refer to them as the Continental view of the Sabbath and the Puritan view of the Sabbath.

Tagging with an impressive label a non-confessional view might give people a subjective sense of theological backing, but it cannot provide objective confessional or ecclesiastical backing. Moreover, as church historian and professor R. Scott Clark has demonstrated, this rejected view, commonly referred to as “the Continental view” of the Sabbath, simply entails spurious revisionism. There was no Continental view, or as Dr. Clark puts it:

There was no consciousness in the classical period of a distinctly “British” or “Continental” view of anything. There was simply an international Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

The Puritan view argues against the acceptability of recreation on the Sabbath day. The text most often cited to support this view is Isaiah 58:13-14…The crux of the matter in this passage is the prophetic critique of people doing their own pleasure on the Sabbath day. The assumption that many make with respect to this text is that doing one’s own pleasure must refer to recreation. If this is the case, the prophet Isaiah was adding new dimensions to the Old Testament law with respect to Sabbath-keeping.

On what basis does Sproul object to the word of God “adding new dimensions” to the Old Testament law, (allowing for a moment that the supposed new dimension wasn’t already implicit in the law)? It was Jesus who brought fresh dimensions to the Decalogue. Moreover, doesn’t the New Testament bring further development to the Doctrine of God, from Shema to Trinity?

How does Sproul make use of such a hermeneutical principle that would forbid new dimensions to former teachings, at least with any consistency, without undermining the heart of the Christian faith? Lest Sproul undermines the nature of God’s employment of progressive revelation, he may not dismiss an exegetical interpretation of newer revelation purely on its expansive import – unless, of course, it were to positively contradict what precedes it, which a prima facie Puritan interpretation of Isaiah 58:13-14 does not do! (Sproul implicitly commits an informal fallacy of arguing by false disjunction since forbidding recreation and forbidding work are not mutually exclusive propositions. The Westminster affirmation of the former does not undermine or imply a rejection of the latter. The codified interpretation of the Divines rejects both without contradiction.)

Sproul overlooks that progressive revelation is an elaborative complement; it does not contradict merely by virtue of its expansive nature. Surely, a recreational import of Isaiah 58:-3-14 would not contradict the 4th Commandment any more than Jesus’ Decalogue application of anger and lust can undermine the 6th and 7th Commandments. So, at best, Sproul has merely begged the question of whether a Puritan view of Isaiah 58:13-14 undermines the law. Sproul has proven nothing.

There is another way to understand Isaiah 58:13-14 however, following the thinking of those who hold the Continental view of the Sabbath… Presumably, what is in view in the prophetic critique is God’s judgment against the Israelites for violating the Mosaic law with respect to the Sabbath day, particularly regarding involvement in commerce… According to this view, the text has nothing to say directly or indirectly about recreation on the Sabbath day.

We might observe in passing that Sproul’s interpretation of the passage seems a bit strained as it would seem to make ancient commerce out to be essentially pleasurable and not laborious. Moreover, if the verse is limited to commerce, then are other sorts of labor not forbidden on the Lord’s Day, or would that entail an abrogation of the Continental view Sproul seeks to defend!

Sproul raises a point. There are non-confessional ways of looking at many things. Obviously that demonstrates nothing, other than perhaps paper doesn’t resist ink. At the end of the day, all Sproul has done is arbitrarily inserted a narrow scope of what he deems as lawful pleasures into what Isaiah 58:13-14 forbids. In doing so, Sproul undermines God’s use of progressive revelation and the exegetical basis for a Christian conception of God (Trinity), and sins of the heart as revealed in the New Testament (Sermon On The Mount). In the final analysis, Sproul hasn’t successfully spoken on the Sabbath. He has merely engaged in the informal fallacy of special pleading, which if followed consistently would undermine creedal Christianity and the spirit of the law.

But let’s run with Sproul’s view of recreation and see where it leads. Are we to infer that God commanded us not to work on the Sabbath in order that we might enjoy 21st century entertainment on that day? Are all non-work lawful pleasures that are suitable for Saturdays somehow appropriate for Sunday? Did God command rest for one day in seven so that 21st century Moms and Dads would be free on Sundays to take their children to their soccer games? It should be apparent, the Divines did not base their view of Sabbath recreation solely on Isaiah 58:13-14. With the advent of the five day work week, is Isaiah 58:13-14 needed to demonstrate God’s disapproval of two consecutive Saturdays with a worship service inconveniently dropped into the second Saturday for religious discipline?

Sadly, modern day detractors seek their own pleasures and in doing so have rejected the covenantal promise that is tied to the Sabbath, which extends to their offspring. If not, then we should be quick to believe that the principle of the salvific promise of Isaiah 58:13-14 to our offspring is released to us if we’d only turn in faith from the pleasures of commerce toward the pleasures of recreation! Such a view is refuted simply by stating it.

Did God protect us from work on the Sabbath in order for us to indulge ourselves in recreation and to be entertained after Sunday worship? Is that how we are to appropriate the promised blessings of Isaiah 58:13-14?

One must wonder what is off limits for a so-called Continental sabbatarian. Take golf. Are starters at the club and servers at the pub exempt from the creation ordinance of Sabbath rest? Of course not. So, when it comes to the so-called Continental view, is it acceptable for one to be served at a restaurant, or entertained by athletes as they desecrate the Sabbath, just as long as we ourselves keep the Sabbath holy per “The Continental view”? (Who’s the pharisaical legalist in this picture?) Even working-animals and servants were to rest on the Sabbath. Some have gone so far as to defend their being waited on by asserting that the sabbath commandment doesn’t apply to unbelievers!

The point should be plain enough. Even if we allow for spurious historical claims about a Continental view in order to lend credence to non-confessional Sabbath keeping, the license taken by most who reject the Reformed view today is typically unsupportable and would be opposed even by most supposed seventeenth century detractors. Let’s be honest, what falls under “recreation” often entails others working on behalf of our personal pleasure (e.g. baristas as Starbucks) and a form of commerce to boot. Rarely does an allowance for recreational pleasure uphold the creation ordinance for all people not to work on the Christian sabbath. (Christians won’t even forgo a latte macchiato on Sundays so not to be an occasion for another person’s violation of the 4th Commandment.)

One other point of debate remains between the two sides on this issue. It has to do with works of mercy performed on the Sabbath… Some have drawn the conclusion that since Jesus performed works of mercy on the Sabbath, the Christian is obligated to do the same. However, the fact that Jesus did works of mercy on the Sabbath, though it clearly reveals that it is lawful to do so on the Sabbath, does not obligate us to do such works on the Sabbath.

I have no idea who Sproul is referring to with respect to the “some” who find it obligatory to do works of mercy on the Sabbath, but does his rightly rejecting an esoteric position on the Sabbath – one that is denied by the Westminster standards(!) – somehow add force to a non-confessional view of the Sabbath? No, though it might raise doubt in the minds of the less theologically grounded.

Closing remarks

R.C. Sproul was a popularizer in a favorable sense. I owe him much. He was the first living Calvinst I knew, and as a baby Calvinist I devoured his VHS and audio cassettes. I just couldn’t get enough. Sproul’s usefulness is vast and his gifts many. He brought generic Calvinism to the masses. Few, if any, were his equal in that respect. Notwithstanding, one must read Sproul with a discerning mind.

I’m a bit leery when one cites historical disagreement in the church while appealing to select theologians in the context of trying to justify the wrong side of the church’s confessional position. It bears mentioning that in this same vein Sproul’s view of the Impeccability of Christ implicitly denies Chalcedon and the Westminster Standards as it relates to the hypostatic union. That strikes me as reckless and cavalier. What’s most striking, however, is not just that Sproul’s position implicitly denies Chalcedon, but that his rhetorical claim that favored implicit heresy is identical in-kind to his Sabbath claim that invokes alleged division while citing backing of theologians for an aberrant view.

The best theologians, past and present, have been divided on the question of whether Jesus could have sinned.

I find something subtly misleading about such appeals when used to defend any position, let alone a position that would undermine orthodox Christology. (I also find it misleading to refer to historical disagreement as controversy as Sproul has.)

Leaving aside such a dubious claim about the best theologians, the point I’ll zero in on is that claiming select theologians who affirm doctrine that’s contrary to the church’s creeds and confessions is never difficult. However, what is difficult is developing persuasive arguments that refute the theology of the theologians that have stood with a confessional Reformed tradition for 400 years. (I address Sproul’s rejection of Christ’s inability to sin here, beginning @21 minutes and here on this blog.)

All of these issues continue to be examined and debated as the church seeks to understand how God is best honored on this day.

There will always be gainsayers within the fold of God, but we can be grateful for confessional Presbyterianism, which got the Sabbath right with no serious attempt or movement within the tradition to overturn this teaching of 400 years. All we have are non-subscribers and subscribers in the fold, but the confessional Reformed church has indeed spoken. Any complaints are with her and ultimately, I believe, with God Himself.


Natural Theology, what’s all the rage all about? (Inherent problems with Classical Apologetics)

Matthew Barrett and Steven Duby set out to defend Natural Theology, but in the final analysis they discuss Natural Revelation as it relates to Natural Knowledge. As early as @5:55 Steven Duby slides into a discussion on the Natural Knowledge of God gained through Natural Revelation (even as it relates to the “pressure” that restrains men in conscience). There is a bit of sliding back and forth between terms (Natural Revelation and Natural Theology) that carries throughout the episode; yet it is merely maintained that all men know God through revelation of himself in nature. Surprisingly, the discussion never touches upon the question of whether man in his fallen and unaided reasoning can construct a Natural Theology of God, let alone a true one, and how such a theology might be defended.

Notwithstanding, it’s a fine introductory presentation of the realty, usefulness and limits of Natural Revelation and Natural Knowledge. I thoroughly enjoyed it! (Seemed like swell guys too!) I dare say Cornelius Van Til, even in his most sanguine moments, would have been delighted by this brief presentation. That said, I’m not prepared to jump on the Natural Theology bandwagon quite yet based upon those delights. Moreover, I’m not quite sure who the target audience was as it relates to persuading people to embrace such an expression of Natural Theology. Certainly not the Reformed, for what was offered was plain vanilla and uncontroversial in the Augustinian tradition with respect to Natural Knowledge through Natural Revelation. Perhaps they targeted some extreme fundamentalists who are opposed to learning anything from unbelieving thinkers? Not sure. Anyway, the discussion was most enjoyable, though Thomists and Arminians might be a bit disappointed because Natural Theology was never explored!

Some possibly related reservations as they relate to apologetics:

Natural Revelation (or General Revelation) indeed teaches us much about God. Without Scripture unregenerate man knows God is all powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent (and other perfections too).

Romans 1 teaches that natural man actually knows God. And not just that all men know God, but that they know the one true and living God, which is why it can be said that all are without excuse. Indeed, men suppress the truth in unrighteousness, but it is the truth they suppress (and not false conceptions of God). In moral and epistemic rebellion, natural man turns the truth he knows into a lie. Without exception, that is universally man’s response to what he knows by nature as he lives in God’s ordered universe. Accordingly, any treatment of the viability of Natural Theology should be placed in that context – man’s twisting and suppression of the truth.

In a defense of Natural Theology it might’ve been interesting to have heard what sort of catholic creed might be formulated by an unconverted fallen race, and how naturally devised theological distinctives, even if it were possible not to fashion them according to minds at enmity with God, could be epistemically justified. After all, even the converted need special revelation to justify the possibility of acquiring knowledge through general revelation. So, aside from the natural distortion of natural revelation, there’s also the justification of knowledge that warrants consideration.

Some further context before addressing some apologetic considerations:

There is knowledge of God that is properly basic. It is apprehended directly (as opposed to discursively), yet not in a vacuum but always through the mediation of created things in the context of providence. Without reasoning from more fundamental or basic beliefs, the unbeliever actually apprehends God in conscience through the things that are made. Man’s knowledge of God is mediated through the external world, but it is apprehended immediately by God’s image bearers apart from argumentation or modest reflection. (It’s not discursive.) This is why Paul can say that all men have this knowledge of the truth. Not all men can follow the argumentation of someone else’s Natural Theology, let alone are capable of formulating their own, but all men directly apprehend God’s Natural Revelation of himself.

Moral considerations regarding Natural Theology as it relates to Classical Apologetics (CA).

To try to prove God exists in order to get someone to believe God exists is to go along with the charade of the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. Engaging the folly of unbelief in this way is to become like the fool (as opposed to properly answering the fool). In short, by not affirming this one foundational apologetic truth that all men know God and are, therefore, without excuse, the employment of CA easily can imply several distinct yet related untruths (by what it omits, if not assumes) in methodological practice.

Before reading on, it’s important to understand that it is only the fool who has said in his heart there is no God. So, naturally, let’s not become like her.

Seven concerns:

1. It’s seemingly implicit in the employment of CA that God has not plainly revealed himself in creation and conscience through which man knows God exists. After all, why use CA to prove God’s existence unless all aren’t certain God exists?

Many additional untruths are seemingly made implicit by those who don’t recognize and submit to this one truth, that man already knows God.

2. CA would seem to imply that such unbelief is an intellectual matter, not an ethical one. It too easily suggests one needs better arguments in order to become intellectually persuaded of what is already known yet suppressed. The apologetic emphasis is on proof and persuasion, and not the need to gently expose one’s willful, sinful rebellion that manifests itself in a denial of the truth. It focuses on a supposed need for intellectual enlightenment and not an actual need for moral repentance (from denying the God who has made himself known).

3. CA too easily implies that all men are not culpable for denying that God has plainly made himself known. After all, the implicit need of the unbeliever would seem to be intellectual persuasion, not a need to avoid wrath due to rebellion against God who is known a priori.

4. If CA implies man is not culpable, then CA implies God’s injustice, for God would be unjust for punishing those who aren’t culpable.

5. By trying to overcome the unbeliever’s alleged agnosticism or atheism, CA seems to deny that no one seeks after God. Accordingly, CA easily implies that an alleged seeker is not in ethical rebellion while she masquerades in an intellectual pursuit of the answer to whether God exists.

6. CA would seem to imply that God is not a necessary precondition for the possibility of seeking God (and denying God). In other words, CA grants the requisite tools of investigation (common notions) are implicitly neutral ground and not merely common ground that can only be justified if it is first true that God exists.

7. If it’s implied that common ground is neutral ground, then CA implies that there are brute facts that can be interpreted without worldview bias. In other words, it grants that the facts of nature can exegete themselves without any reference to God as sovereign interpreter.

There is an apologetic that is true to the context of man’s true knowledge of God, but it looks quite different from CA. It’s my experience that an appreciation for the sheer profundity of a distinctly presuppositional approach to apologetics is directly correlative to a diminishing view of CA.

An insignificant Reformed Apologist

Simplicity, Attributes and Divine Wrath

God is a simple being or he is not. If God is not a simple being, then he is a composite of parts, in which case God’s attributes would be what he has rather than is, making his attributes abstract properties that self-exist without ultimate reference to God. God would be subject to change and evaluation against platonistic forms without origin. Yet if God alone self-exists, then God is a simple being. As such, God is identical to what is in God.

There are at least four traps or ditches we must avoid when considering divine simplicity:

  • One is to say that each attribute is identical to each other because God is his attributes.
  • Another trap to avoid is the denial of divine simplicity on the basis that “God is love” obviously means something different than “God is holy.”
  • A third trap to avoid is trying to resolve the conundrum presented by the first two ditches by positing a kind of penetration or infusion of attributes using propositions like, God’s holiness is loving holiness. (Although helpful and in a sense unavoidable to a point, the infusion of attributes eventually breaks down when we consider, for instance, omniscience and spirituality, or more strikingly love and wrath. Attempts to qualify attributes with other attributes do not save divine simplicity but instead, if taken too far, end in its denial.)
  • And finally, a fourth trap to avoid, which is an advancement of the first, is saying that x-attribute is identical to y-attribute in God’s mind even though the transitivity of attributes is unintelligible to human minds. That particular mystery card reduces each attribute to meaningless predicates when played. Attributes become vacuous terms. The law of identity was never intended for such use.

Like creation ex nihilo divine simplicity is derived negatively, not positively. (Creation ex nihilo is deduced by the negation of eternal matter and pantheism.) Given that divine simplicity is entailed by God’s sole eternality, God is not comprised of parts. Accordingly, God’s revelation of his particular attributes is an accommodation to our creatureliness. It’s ectypal and analogical, not archetypal and univocal.

Theology and the creator-creature distinction:

When we consider God’s attributes we must be mindful that we are limited to drawing theological distinctions that pertain to the one undivided and divine essence that eternally exists in three modes of subsistence or persons. Given our finitude we cannot help but draw such theological distinctions, but we should be mindful that such doctrinal nuance, although proper in its place, does not belong to any division in God.

God is unequivocally knowable yet incomprehensible. Notwithstanding, the God who is simple we only know analogically, discretely and in part. Because our understanding of God is analogically theological and not original or intuitive, we shouldn’t expect our compartmentalized creaturely understanding of God is love and God is holy to imply that at the univocal or analogical level love = holy.

As a simple being, God is one divine, undivided and incomprehensible essence – yet revealed to us through created things (e.g., language) because God’s simplicity is too complex to take in all at once due to the creator-creature distinction. Accordingly, God’s self-disclosure comes to us as particular attributes, in an accommodation to our creatureliness. Indeed, we’d have to share in the divine essence to know God originally or intuitively as a simple being. It may be said that we can apprehend God, but we can never comprehend God. To comprehend God is to know God exhaustively, as God knows God.

Theologizing of special revelation:

With that as a backdrop, we may consider that many of God’s revealed attributes are further distinguished by their relation to creation, which are sometimes called relative attributes (or secondary attributes, which is not the happiest of terms). Although all God’s attributes are eternal and ultimately one, at least some of God’s revealed perfections are inconceivable to us apart from considering them in relation to something other than God. For instance, God is long-suffering, but what is it to be pure patience in timeless eternity without objects of pity? That an attribute such as long-suffering is revealed in the context of created-time and patience toward pitiful creatures does not imply that God is not eternally long-suffering in his being. The same can be said of God’s holiness, for what is holiness without created things? God cannot be separate from himself; yet God is eternally holy. That is to say, God does not become holy through creation, or long-suffering through the occasion of sin and redemption. Is omnipresence a spatial consideration dependent upon creation or is it an eternal reality that is expressed or not expressed apart from creation?

We are limited in our creaturely understanding, but we can be certain God’s Trinitarian self-love includes love of his relative attributes, such as his patience towards sinners he’d instantiate, and his creativity apart from having yet created. God loves himself for who he is, not what he does (or what we might imagine he “was” eternally “doing”).

(We understand this in a limited sense by analogy. One reason I love my wife is because she is a self-sacrificing servant of God, family and neighbor. My love for her isn’t released by her acts or temporal acts of serving. I love Lisa as the servant she is even when she is not serving or even being served. I love her for who she is, not what she does.)

Wrath is an attribute no less than long-suffering and holiness. It’s a perfection of God without which God would not exist. If it is not, then what is it?

I’ll now try to address some common rejoinders to wrath as an attribute:

1. To say wrath is not a divine perfection because there are no objects of wrath toward which wrath may be expressed within the self-existing ontological Trinity proves too much. It presupposes a criterion that would undermine other divine perfections such as holiness, mercy, creativity, patience etc.

It also confuses God as timeless pure act with a notion of God’s timeless doing. That there’s no potential with God does not mean God’s existence entails an eternal expression of his divine attributes – for our only conception of expression entails time-sequence, which in turn entails creation! So, that God does not “express” wrath in the ontological Trinity in a way that we can understand does not undermine wrath as a divine perfection, for neither can we begin to conceive how love is expressed in a timeless eternity! So, just as relative attributes are only understood in relation to things outside of God, what are classified as absolute attributes (e.g., Love) cannot be conceived other than analogically and relatively.

Since time is created, and eternal expressions of love in the ontological Trinity are human contemplations of the eternal in temporal terms, it’s special pleading to dismiss wrath as an eternal perfection while simultaneously affirming love as an eternal perfection. To do so on the basis of analogical contemplations of time-function intra-Trinitarian expressions of non-temporal Trinitarian existence is philosophically arbitrary and inconsistent. It also ends in Social Trinitarianism by introducing time into the eternal life of God.

2. Others have pointed to the the impassibility of God as a reason to reject wrath as a divine attribute. That also proves too much. If wrath is akin to human passion, then God cannot release wrath (or take on a mode of wrath) whether it’s an attribute or not. Therefore, since it is possible for God to exhibit wrath it must be passionless wrath, which leaves no place for an orthodox-evangelical to deny wrath as a divine attribute strictly on the basis of God being without passions. The line of reasoning that dismisses wrath as an attribute this way confuses the spontaneous reactions of humans with the determinately measured responses of God. It implies God can be acted upon.

3. Others have suggested wrath is merely an outworking of God’s holiness and justice. The problem with such a construct is that if God exercises wrath, he must exercise wrath (lest he deny himself). Where there’s occasion for wrath, there’s an eventuality to it. In other words, wrath is not purely a free act of the will but has a necessary aspect to it, in that it must be freely discharged against transgressors (or in vicarious substitution). Furthermore, if the dispensing of wrath has this necessary quality to it, then given a freely divinely-determined state of affairs that contemplates sin, how is wrath itself not a necessary property of God? To suggest God necessarily expresses wrath because of his holiness and justice is ambiguous. It’s either to divide the one essence of a necessary being, or else rightly affirm the one essence while distinguishing how particular revealed attributes relate theologically.

Given that it is necessary that God respond to sin in his wrath, we either have to reduce wrath to a covenant property that God necessarily takes on or becomes, which is heresy, or else we we should conclude that wrath naturally flows from himself in relation to other attributes such as holiness and justice. So, either we end up denying God’s immutability by implying God necessarily becomes the consuming fire he actually is, or else we must infer wrath to be no less an attribute than those attributes from which wrath would naturally arise alongside in full expression in the ultimately one attribute of God, which is himself. To say that God necessarily becomes wrathful, or merely has wrath (because he is holy and just) leads to mutability and parts in God. Whereas to say that God doesn’t become wrathful but rather is wrathful and, also, takes aim with his eternal wrath in the context of sin because he is holy and just is to affirm, under good regulation, logical (not temporal) relations with respect to three analogically understood attributes. In sum, God either has, becomes or is.

(In anticipation of those still pointing to wrath not being eternally expressed in the ontological Trinity, see rejoinder #1 above, which addresses the arbitrariness and inconsistency of the special pleading for the eternal perfection of love while dismissing wrath as an eternal perfection.)

4. Some have wanted to label particular attributes essential, and others non-essential. That’s a philosophical howler because divine attributes are properties without which God doesn’t exist. Accordingly, non-essential divine attributes is an oxymoron. (God has no accidental perfections.) So-called non-essential attributes are either attributes or they are not. If they are attributes, then they are not only essential but necessary.

(Maleness is an essential property I possess. In all possible worlds in which I exist, I am male. It’s not a necessary property because I do not exist in every possible world. What can be contemplated as God’s essential properties, if they are divine properties at all, are necessary properties because God is a necessary being.)

The employment of “contingent attributes” functions similarly. God being a necessary being has no contingent properties.

5. Although rare, some have denied wrath is an attribute while wanting to affirm wrath as a divine perfection. Attributes and perfections are terms that pertain to God’s nature, his very essence. Accordingly, we mustn’t try to parse divine attributes from divine perfections or properties, for there is no relevant difference between these terms:

God reveals Himself not only in His names, but also in His attributes, that is, in the perfections of the divine Being.

Louis Berkhof

The perfections of God are called his attributes, because they are ascribed to him as the essential properties of his nature.

Robert Shaw

To the divine essence, which in itself is infinite, eternal, and unchangeable, belong certain perfections revealed to us in the constitution of our nature and in the word of God. These divine perfections are called attributes as essential to the nature of a divine Being, and necessarily involved in our idea of God.

Charles Hodge

There are indeed precise theological distinctions we can make regarding divine attributes – like communicable and incommunicable, absolute and relative – but we may not invent a taxonomy that undermines sound philosophical theology.

Wrapping up:

Scripture is clear that God can only swear by himself because there is none greater by whom he might swear (Genesis 22:16; Hebrews 6:13). Added to this we can know that for God to swear by his holiness and in his wrath, God is swearing by himself since what is in God is God (Psalm 89:35; 95:11).

Lastly, if God is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), then wrath is indeed a divine attribute. (Apply modus ponens.)

Let’s hear from some others:

Some [relative] attributes are related purely to sin: wrath is the prime example…However, the relative attributes, as well as the absolute ones, are characteristics without which God would not be God.

Robert Letham

A third element in the idea of holiness is the element of wrath. [The biblical writers] spoke of God’s wrath, obviously considering it one of God’s perfections.

James M. Boice

Though divine wrath presupposes the existence of sin, it expresses what is always true of God’s will: he abhors evil. Divine wrath is indeed a divine perfection.

Scott R. Swain

D.A. Carson calls wrath an secondary attribute, but then walks it back when denying that God is wrath, which of course denies that wrath is an attribute at all. Carson then tries to draw a distinction between God is love and God is not wrath. Carson is initially correct, then contradicts himself per rejoinder #4 above.

Kevin DeYoung recognizes such inconsistency, noting such attempts as “distinctions without a difference.” DeYoung draws attention to the folly of saying God is love but that God only has wrath.

Ligon Duncan quoting J.I. Packer favorably could not be more clear that he believes wrath is a divine attribute.

This SS class addresses: Attributes; Impassibility; Simplicity; Univocal; Analogical.